This weekend I made sure I didn't waste yet another Bank Holiday sitting at home watching TV...and I was glad I didn't!
Since starting learning leatherwork three years ago, I've begun to realise how many people are using, or, rather, needing leather crafts. There are several "niche" audiences, one of which are bushcrafters. These people who want to get back to basics, coping with living in the wild, living off the land and being self sustaining. However, they use equipment that often requires leather goods, such a sheaths for knives, hand axe covers, belt pouches, etc. So, I decided to pack my camping gear into the car, along with almost all my leather equipment and head to the National Forest in the heart of England for the annual Bushcraft Show.
A couple of thousand people gathered at Beehive Farm Woodland Lakes, close to Burton on Trent. The venue was perfect for such a gathering, offering “normal” camping to bivouacking in the woods for those who are true aficionados and canoeing for those who wanted to take to the water! A very friendly bunch they turned out to be. Several people stopped to talk about my leatherwork, as I created an axe cover and “pancake” knife sheath. It was good to share skills and passions with people who appreciated old crafts and the need to preserve them.
However, apart from seeing the near god that is Ray Mears in person, the thing that struck me most was the number of children and young people attending the event. In a world where most kids spend the majority of their time out of school indoors, on computers and watching TV, here there were children and young people running free in the countryside, living in tents, wearing knife sheaths and cooking on log fires. Not just that, they were learning how to use sheath knives & hand axes and lighting fire by friction and sparks from flints. When there were demonstrations, such as skinning and butchering a Monk Jack deer, children and young people made up a good portion of the audience!
I got talking to one young man aged 21 who is now an outdoor pursuits instructor. He told me that at school, he was placed with the disruptive group, because of his severe dyslexia. As a result, he was always getting into trouble. He left school with few qualifications as a result, but decided to pursue some of his passions which included making things from wood, metal and leather. After attending a course with a bush crafter in East Anglia, the man running the course recognised his passion and offered him a three month internship, where he could learn to turn a deer hide into buckskin, make things from leather and other outdoor skills. It was a privilege to sit and share with him. His passion for bushcraft skills had helped him overcome a severe restriction and point him on a path towards employability.
Being at the Bushcraft Show was like a world I knew 50 years ago as a boy scout, where the overkill of the Nanny State with all its litigation, health and safety rules and risk assessments had yet to happen! And do you know what? I liked it! There were even groups of young people bivouacking in the woods, sleeping under tarps in hammocks and really experiencing living in the wild. I felt quite a softy with my cosy tent and duvet!
It made me think that whilst we need to make sure our children are not put at unnecessary risk, we are doing them an injustice mollycoddling them the way we do. These young people were learning skills that will serve them in life. They will be far better equipped to cope with what life throws at them. They will have resilience, less fear of the unknown and the ability to not be caught out by life's unexpected surprises and they will have a real spirit of adventure as they enter adulthood. Their questions to Ray Mears were evidence of this.
This weekend's experience has also made me think how important Forest Church can be to young people for whom the outdoors is an unknown environment for many of them. Meeting spiritual needs, whilst also addressing the care for the environment and showing them what challenges the outdoors has to offer will help to produce rounded human beings.
I may not be bivvying in a hammock myself, but I'm glad to align myself with these people and their passion to not be boxed in by modern life and its denial and restrictions on the fun and learning that's to be had by living a bit more on the edge, taking risks and playing with sharp pointy things and fire!